Hofstra’s rise close to being complete

Associated Press
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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) Joe Mihalich didn’t show up on Hofstra’s campus three years ago riding a white horse. He did arrive and turn around a basketball program saddled with off-the-court issues that left the roster depleted and the image in tatters.

The Pride finished 7-25 in 2012-13 and four players were arrested on burglary charges stemming from dormitory room break-ins.

This season, the attitude is as far as it can get from that year. The Pride are picked as the preseason favorite to win the Colonial Athletic Conference.

Mihalich gives the credit to his staff and the players. He didn’t know if the third season would be the one that saw such expectations.

“I don’t know if you ever put a number on it but I knew we could turn it around because this is a great place with great leadership,” Mihalich said Thursday at the team’s media day. “Everything was in place to turn it around and I wouldn’t have come (from Niagara) if it wasn’t. I believe Hofstra can be a special place for basketball.”

The optimism for this season comes from the three leading scorers returning off a team that went 20-14 and played in the CBI. All three, however, are guards, giving the Pride one of the better backcourts in the nation.

“It’s humbling,” senior guard Juan’ya Green said of the attention the backcourt has received. “It just tells us how hard we worked and we pushed each other to be the best we could.”

Green is the point guard. He averaged 6.5 assists last season and will again be the director of the offense.

“My teammates trust me and Coach Mihalich trusts me and he knows I’ll pick out the right play at the right time,” Green said.

The 3-point specialist is junior Brian Bernardi, who made 95 3-pointers last season, shooting 40.4 percent from beyond the arc.

“My whole life I’ve always been able to shoot the 3,” he said, standing just behind the 3-point line for an interview. “I practice and prepare and I shoot every day. I made four 3s at the Nets’ arena when I was in sixth grade so I knew I was supposed to be a shooter.”

The third member of the backcourt is 6-foot-5 senior Ameen Tanksley, the team’s true swingman who helps with the rebounding. He averaged 16.2 points and 5.5 rebounds last season while making 74 3s.

“There’s no pressure for one player to be the big scorer,” Bernardi said. “We share the ball and that makes it hard for our opponent.”

Mihalich knows everyone points to his backcourt and that could cause problems if the Pride were to face a team with size up front.

“One of our challenges is to figure out a way to defend really big frontcourts but they have to defend us too,” Mihalich said. “That’s the great cat and mouse game of basketball. We’re small and quick. You’re big and strong let’s see who wins.”

The Hofstra players all break into big smiles when this season’s schedule is brought up. There is a trip to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam in November and a game against Appalachian State on Dec. 6, at Madison Square Garden. It will be the Pride’s first appearance at the Garden in six years.

“It’s been one of my dreams to play in Madison Square Garden,” Bernardi said. “And the Virgin Islands, that’s just great.”

Mihalich is looking at a different part of the schedule – the CAA Tournament with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line.

“It’s all about three days in March,” he said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

Joe Rondone/USA TODAY NETWORK
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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.